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Interview With an Author: T. Kingfisher

Daryl M., Librarian, West Valley Regional Branch Library,
Author T. Kingfisher and her latest book, Thornhedge
Author T. Kingfisher and her latest book, Thornhedge. Photo of author: JR Blackwell

T. Kingfisher (she/her) writes fantasy, horror, and occasional oddities, including Nettle & Bone, What Moves the Dead, and A House with Good Bones. Under a pen name, she also writes bestselling children's books. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, dogs, and chickens, who may or may not be possessed. Her latest book is Thornhedge, and she recently talked about it with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.

What was your inspiration for Thornhedge?

I am a great lover of fairy tales, and of course, Sleeping Beauty is one of the classics. But I can never leave stories like this alone, and I started poking at the idea that maybe the wicked fairy godmother was doing the right thing and what it would be like to have to keep that hedge in place. (I love Maleficent, but she's a very, very different character!)

Are Toadling, Halim, Fayette, or any of the other characters in the novel inspired by or based on specific individuals?

Not specifically, although Toadling being anxious and fretful and guilty and trying to do the right thing are character traits that I very much see in myself! (I have, fortunately, never encountered any children like Fayette.)

How did the novella evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any characters or scenes that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?

Unusually, I didn't actually cut much from this one! It was a small, contained little story, and it fits novella length perfectly without having to saw off any extra scenes. I did briefly toy with the idea of having the Benedictine monk show up, but I never got to the point of actually writing him in.

Thornhedge is definitely a different look at the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty. Is Sleeping Beauty your favorite fairy tale story, or is it a different story?

I actually don't really like Sleeping Beauty in the form it usually appears—it's just so passive. The main character sleeps through it! (I did write a retelling for kids under my other name, "Harriet the Invincible" where the heroine uses her curse for her own benefit because I disliked the traditional passive heroine so much!) Actually my favorite fairy tale is probably Bluebeard. I like the unsettling quality of something very, very bad going on just around the corner.

Do you have a favorite version/retelling of the Sleeping Beauty (novels, film or television)? A least favorite? One that is so bad it is fun?

Oh, the movie Maleficent, all the way. I know a lot of critics didn't like it, but I enjoyed the heck outta that one. (The crow particularly.) Angeline Jolie chewed the scenery marvelously.

Same question if Sleeping Beauty isn't your favorite or if you just have another great fairy tale inspired novel, film, or television show (or one that is so bad it is fun)?

Oh goodness. For books, I think Naomi Novik’s Uprooted is fascinating, and I love Robin McKinley’s Beauty & the Beast story, Rose Daughter. I can't think of any so-bad-its-good movies, though. (I mean, I know lots of movies in that category—I unabashedly love Chronicles of Riddick—but not fairy tale retellings specifically.)

Do you have an idea or theory regarding why/how original/traditional fairy tales continue to fascinate writers/readers centuries after they were first written down?

I suspect it may be that we get exposed to them so young that they have a resonance that many things we read or watch later in life don't. They get in on the ground floor, so to speak. You get Alice in Wonderland retellings mentioned in the same breath, which of course isn't a fairy tale at all. And there's a lot of old fairy tales that are really obscure and rather baffling to modern readers. ("The Mouse, The Bird, and The Sausage" comes to mind, but there's a lot of them.) But that said, there's also just something about the way that our classic fairy tales feel and sound and are structured. I've read stories that weren't obviously based on any given fairy tale but still felt right. Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn isn't a fairy tale, but it's still correct in fairy-tale fashion.

What's currently on your nightstand?

My CPAP machine and a spray bottle to keep the cat from attacking the lampshade at 3 a.m. But if you mean what I'm reading before bed, I've been on a mystery kick lately. (I'm one of those people who has to read something wildly different from what I'm currently writing.)

Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?

Oh, goodness. Terry Pratchett, Diane Duane, Robin McKinley…those three were all hugely influential. There's a lot of authors that I love and will buy anything by, but don't ask me to rank them from most to least favorite! Errr…China Mieville's Bas-Lag books make me go "Damn, I wish I'd thought of that!" every other page, which is high praise as authors go? And I love Georgette Heyer's Regency romances when I'm in the mood for something light and frothy and formal and absurd.

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

I read Tailchaser’s Song by Tad Williams and Watership Down by Richard Adams until the covers literally fell to shreds.

Was there a book you felt you needed to hide from your parents?

Let's just say that I was not entirely honest with my mother about what Clan of the Cave Bear was about.

Is there a book you've faked reading?

Yes, but if I tell you what it is, I'd have to go read it for real to maintain my street cred.

Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?

I think I picked up my very first Pratchett because of the Jusko covers. It was a UK edition from before they got reprinted here, and once I read the first one, I kept going back to the bookstore and buying more.

Is there a book that changed your life?

Not quite, but when I read Small Gods by Pratchett as an adult, I actually yelled at the book, "Where were you when I was sixteen and needed you?!" Sometimes you encounter a book that you know would have changed your life in some other reality.

Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?

Book Of Night With Moon by Diane Duane. If I tried to explain the premise, it would sound ridiculous, but it's so good.

Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?

Oh gosh. I don't know. There's so many books that hit the way they do because of who you are at the time you read them. I don't know if there's any I can think of where I would really like to go in cold again.

What is the last piece of art (music, movies, tv, more traditional art forms) that you've experienced or that has impacted you?

For some reason, I got the urge to binge-watch all of M*A*S*H recently, so I did. And man, when that show landed, it really landed. People who read my horror novels often ask me how I can write funny horror novels, and these days I'm just like, "You remember M*A*S*H?" and those of us old enough to have watched it go, "Ohhhh, yeah, okay, gotcha." People in terrible situations are frequently hilarious.

What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?

I don't actually know! There's so many places that I would very much like to go that I haven't seen. Can I be in a plane flying over the Nazca Lines with Mark Twain and Terry Pratchett? That sounds awesome.

What is the question that you're always hoping you'll be asked but never have been? What is your answer?

I would love to be asked what my favorite weird nature fact is. The fact changes regularly, but the one I love at the moment is that there's a whole family of spiders—the net-casting spiders—that have a light-sensitive membrane in their eyes that gives them superb night-vision. Better than cats or owls or anything. The problem is that it's so sensitive that it burns out at dawn every day because spiders don't have eyelids! So they have to regrow this membrane in their eyes every night to see in the dark. Isn't that cool? (also slightly horrible.)

What are you working on now?

I have a fantasy romance in the works, and I'm also working on the third installment in the Sworn Soldier series, which are weird but fun little horror novellas from Tor Nightfire.

Book cover of Thornhedge
Kingfisher, T.